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Is there even worse D.C. dysfunction ahead?

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So the 2014 midterm elections are here. Since some bare-faced gerrymandering put control of the House beyond Democrats’ reach a few years ago, only the Senate holds any mystery as far as the post-election breakdown of seats, and has thus commanded most of the attention, including the obscene amount of money poured into campaigns across the country. Those single-digit approval ratings for Congress that we’ve by now gotten used to could well become a major reference point after the dust settles Election Day. One wouldn’t think that Capitol Hill’s approval numbers could get any more anemic, but who knows? Should Republicans gain a Senate majority, and that chamber looks to join the House in the sort of recklessness that has typified the House Republicans’ agenda during these Obama years, we ought not be surprised if Washington hits levels of dysfunction we’ve not yet seen.

Because of a plurality of Senate seats in red or red-leaning states up for grabs in this cycle, pundits have given the GOP a better than even shot at erasing the Democrats’ current majority. Some races, though, have tightened up, according to the polls, making for a tentativeness in projecting that wasn’t there when “experts” earlier weighed in about the outcome. If there is a switch in Senate control, the only saving grace to possibly forestall a flood of legislative action that mollifies only the country’s right-of-center element would be the conventional wisdom that the Senate prides itself on being the more august chamber, often shying away from radical or erratic moves hatched in the House.

The non-stop vilification of President Obama, which has been the main driver of what passes for a Republican/Tea Party agenda, while by no means absent from the Senate, has frequently found expression in the House in wanton abuse of the legislative process. Nothing has more disgustingly highlighted this than the House Republicans voting more than 50 times to repeal or emasculate the Affordable Care Act (ACA). We dare not forget, either, that those unconscionable actions (or lack thereof) resulting in shutdowns of the government were brought to you through the courtesy of the vaunted Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

As for the ACA, it hasn’t been quite the whipping boy in this 2014 campaign that Republicans earlier figured it would be because it has turned on its head the opposition’s gloom and doom predictions, proving to be an unqualified success on more than one front. Since the fix of the program’s troubled online rollout, millions of individuals who did not previously have health insurance now enjoy the peace of mind that comes with access to quality health care. And, significantly, the cost of premiums has worked out to be less than originally projected. The ACA’s success has so effectively neutralized the GOP’s plans to make it a campaign centerpiece, it has even generated some headline-making mumbo-jumbo from Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in his re-election bid in Kentucky: hanging on to a line about dismantling the ACA “root and branch” while expressing support for the state’s well subscribed health insurance system that the ACA made possible.

Supposedly based on a voting patterns history, we’re told that the Republican base is more easily turned out in off-year elections than is the Democratic base. This time around, as earlier in President Obama’s tenure, motivation for GOP voters being more energized than Democrats seems nothing more than a basic “Reject Obama!” battle cry. In a perfect world, certainly within the voter demographic of persons of color, there would be countervailing energy to drive voter turnout. First, as angry pushback against what is generally understood to be unjustified, racially inspired denunciation of Obama. In addition to which, there’s the issue of moves made in several states to suppress poor and minority voting -- which also should serve as impetus for augmenting vote tallies on the Democratic side. Some of the folk involved on the front lines in that struggle talk about tapping into the outrage fomented by those voting rights infringements to hopefully give rise to a steely determination to have their voices heard Election Day. We’ll see how those efforts fare.

In truth, based on Republicans’ undistinguished, obstructionism-minded record during the Obama administration, it seems surreal that the country would freely express a preference for a Republican-controlled Capitol Hill. What if Obama hadn’t presided over and seen impressive results from a creative strategy for addressing, upon assuming office, a looming economic collapse, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in 80 years? What if his decision to bail out America’s auto industry had backfired? What if he hadn’t kept his vow to wind down and end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? And what if the Affordable Care Act had been the flop the other side had so vehemently predicted?

That the president led with tenacity and innate good judgment on all of that and a lot more earned him not credit but crud from the usual suspects. Come to think of it, it has been the perfect precursor to Capitol Hill under complete GOP domination, if that’s where we’re headed. Poison darts, more lethal than ever, aimed at Obama, with we the people suffering collateral damage, unavoidably.

Updated 1:49 pm, October 30, 2014
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